With offensive dynamo Vincent Trocheck out of the lineup, the Florida Panthers top line accounted for all the goals in a key 3-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils Thursday night at the BB&T Center.
The Cats' 43rd win of the season, coupled with the Tampa Bay Lightning's 3-0 loss to Montreal, moved the Panthers back into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division and also matched the franchise-record set by the 1999-00 team.
The Devils opened the scoring at 8:30 of the first period when Mike Sislo pounced on a rebound of Devante Smith-Pelly's shot, which was blocked by Erik Gudbranson, and fired it past Al Montoya for his third goal of the year. Adam Henrique was credited with the secondary helper on the goal that came on a truncated Devils' power play.
After failing to solve Keith Kinkaid with 13 shots in the opening frame, including Aleksander Barkov's early shorthanded breakaway chance, the Panthers finally broke through 7:57 into second. Aaron Ekblad collided with Kyle Palmieri in the neutral zone, freeing the puck. Shawn Thornton collected it and fed Jonathan Huberdeau, who broke in on the New Jersey cage and stuffed it home for his seventeenth.
The Panthers continued to riddle Kinkaid with shots, but the 26-year-old would keep the game tied until Hubderdeau beat him at 3:13 of the final frame. Brian Campbell passed down low to Jaromir Jagr and he was able to dig the puck free and get it to Huberdeau. The crafty winger came off the boards and was able to light the lamp from a sharp angle after putting his shot off the keeper's back and in.
The incomparable Jagr set up Barkov with a beautiful pass to cap a 2-on-1 break with 2:08 remaining in regulation to finally give the Cats some breathing room. The 44-year-old started things off by stealing the puck from David Warsofsky in his own end. It looked like Jagr was going to shoot all the way, but at the last second, he slid the puck over to Barkov for the backdoor goal.
New Jersey's Blake Pietila would pick up a garbage goal with six seconds left to complete the scoring. The marker was the first of the rookie's NHL career.
Florida will finish off the three-game homestand on Staurday night against the Montreal Canadiens, with their magic number for a clinching a playoff spot now reduced to a mere three points.
Fire & Brimstone
- The score was close, but after a stinker against Toronto, the Panthers played with the proper amount of desire, launching 40 shots at backup Keith Kinkaid, who finished with 37 saves in a very impressive performance.
- Jaromir Jagr's first assist of the night was his 60th point of the season. That's the eighteenth time he's done that.
- Erik Gudbranson and Derek MacKenzie both returned to the lineup (finally). Guds dished out three hits, blocked a couple of shots and put one on goal , while MacKenzie registered two shots, two hits and won eight draws. Welcome back, guys!
- Al Montoya delivered another win in a big spot, turning away 23 shots, including 14 of 15 in the third. Kyle Palmieri tested the Big Cubano a game-high nine times and came up empty.
- In addition to his two goals, Joanthan Huberdeau led the Cats with five shots and finished with a +3 rating. That's why he was the game's First Star.
- The Panthers' penalty kill denied the Devils on 5 of 6 opportunities. A solid bounce back after the Leafs game. Two of the penalties were delay of game calls after fans littered the ice with rats after the Cats scored.
- Devante Smith-Pelly's assist on the game-opening goal gave him 12 points in 14 games since New Jersey acquired him from Montreal.
- The fine folks at war-on-ice have the fancy stats breakdown for you here.
- NHL.com has a highlight package for you to see with your own eyes.
- Descend down a few levels into the inferno that is All About The Jersey for more.